June 20, 2024

New CNAS Report Assesses the Role of Drones in A Future Fight to Defend Taiwan  

Washington, June 20, 2024 – Today, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a new report, Swarms over the Strait: Drone Warfare in a Future Fight to Defend Taiwan, by Stacie Pettyjohn, Hannah Dennis, and Molly Campbell.

This report finds that drones will play a critical role in several of the key warfighting missions in a U.S. war with China to defend Taiwan. The authors identify the types of drones and counterdrone measures the United States and Taiwan would need, and call for both countries to procure these capabilities now and to develop operational concepts for their use.

The authors conducted a tabletop exercise examining this scenario and found that the geography significantly disadvantages the United States, requiring drones with long ranges and considerable endurance, which typically cost more. The authors also conducted historical case studies that highlight the importance of mass in drone warfare, specifically in protracted conflicts.

The authors find that drones could provide China an edge in such a war. Chinese forces need only cross 110 miles to Taiwan and can operate their large fleet of drones from their network of hardened military bases on the Chinese mainland.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • The imperative for the United States to acquire a diverse fleet of drones tailored to the unique challenges of the Indo-Pacific theater, including "good enough" longer-range drones capable of performing essential missions;
  • The need for autonomous kamikaze drones to disrupt enemy naval operations and mitigate the threat posed by the Chinese invasion fleet;
  • The urgency for Taiwan to bolster its indigenous drone capabilities, particularly in the realm of short- and medium-range drones, to enhance its defensive posture against potential aggression; and
  • The importance of integrating drones into existing military frameworks and developing robust counterdrone capabilities to mitigate the risk posed by adversary swarms.

To demonstrate the value of drones in this scenario, the report includes visualizations of several illustrative kill chains involving different types of drones.

The report also includes a chapter analyzing global drone proliferation, drawing on a novel dataset of international drone transfers, which CNAS will publish later this summer.

This report builds on findings from a previous report, Evolution Not Revolution: Drone Warfare in Russia’s 2022 Invasion of Ukraine, by Stacie Pettyjohn, which found that today’s drones have not yet revolutionized warfare and only present an evolution to existing ways of fighting.

For more information or to schedule an interview with the report authors, please contact Alexa Whaley at [email protected]. 


Swarms over the Strait

Executive Summary Drones have transformed battlefields in Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ukraine, but in a companion report, Evolution Not Revolution: Drone Warfare in Russia’s ...

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